Cosma Shalizi: “Dives, Lazarus and Alice“
The larger point is that while what is technologically efficient depends on facts of nature, what is economically efficient is a function of our social arrangements, of who owns how much of what. Economic efficiency may be a good tool, but it is perverse to serve your own tools, and monstrous to be ruled by them.
David Hill: “$5 Chess Game, Best-of-Three, Zuccotti Park“
Zugzwang is a term used in chess to refer to a position where every move you have is a bad one. Once you’re in zugzwang, things like having more pieces than your opponent doesn’t matter anymore. If you can’t use them to attack you may as well not have them at all. Often players who find themselves in zugzwang simply resign.
A growing number of people in America know what it feels like to be in zugzwang. For some of them their whole life has been one long zugzwang, they can’t remember ever having any good options. Without catching a lucky break, a lifetime of hard work for most people results in just that—a lifetime of hard work. For others they maybe once thought they had it all—a good job with a pension, a nice house with a payment they could afford, set for life. Then in an instant it all disappeared. House is underwater, ARM is popping on the loan, pension fund bought a bunch of mortgage-backed securities. All that’s left is utter, hopeless zugzwang.
Sadly this, if nothing else, is what unites us. This dreadful unease. This feeling that every option we have is a bad one. And this resentment we feel from being told that it has to be this way, that there are no other options, because these are the rules of the game. But like Poe said, “there’s games and then there’s life. They ain’t the same thing.” It doesn’t have to be this way.
In chess, you don’t have to resign in zugzwang. You can always sacrifice.
Adam Smith (via Brad DeLong): “What Tax Rates Do the Rich Deserve?“
Upon this disposition of mankind, to go along with all the passions of the rich and the powerful, is founded the distinction of ranks, and the order of society. Our obsequiousness to our superiors more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation, than from any private expectations of benefit from their good-will. Their benefits can extend but to a few, but their fortunes interest almost every body. We are eager to assist them in completing a system of happiness that approaches so near to perfection; and we desire to serve them for their own sake, without any other recompense but the vanity or the honour of obliging them. Neither is our deference to their inclinations founded chiefly, or altogether, upon a regard to the utility of such submission, and to the order of society, which is best supported by it. Even when the order of society seems to require that we should oppose them, we can hardly bring ourselves to do it.
Google this: “protesters clash with police.” Many of those links will lead you to stories with pictures of cops armed with rifles and batons, wearing body armor and face shields, and squaring off with unarmed and peaceful protesters. In many of those photographs, you will see cops blasting pepper spray into the faces of Americans whose only crime appears to be exercising an inalienable right. Pepper spray is one of those “non-lethal” weapons, like rubber bullets and sonic grenades, that have come into widespread use in the past 15 years. You’d think police would deploy them sparingly, only in cases in which officer safety is endangered. But OWS has revealed what observers have known for some time – that police, with the approval of courts, have used them increasingly to intimidate, coerce, and terrorize crowds. What else explains the horrible stories of police officers casually pepper-spraying an expectant mother, an 84-year-old woman, and hundreds of students at UC Davis?
These are not conflicts between rivals of equal proportion, as “clash” connotes. These are incidents of police violence and media should start calling then what they are. With so much amateur video out there, the media has little choice but to set aside convention, examine bias, and report what’s happening.
Diana Butler Bass: “Black Friday: A Morality Tale“
Yes, there will be mall riots over flat-screen TVs. But maybe, just maybe, people are shopping on Black Friday because they can’t afford the prices that greedy corporations charge on a regular basis—saving up to buy things like shoes on deep discount. And, of course, people who are suffering under the weight of economic inequality would like to have nice toys for their children and decent electronics (electronics are arguably a necessity to participate in 21st century western society) and the only time of the year they can afford such things is during the super-sales pushed on us by mega-business on Black Friday.
So, this year I do not want to hear the cultural elite decry people standing in line for discounts. The problem isn’t Black Friday super-sales. The problem is that America is mired in deep inequalities, that the middle class is dying, and that many millions can’t afford to buy nice things for their families without waiting in long lines on Thanksgiving night for shoes. We have become a coarser and less neighborly America, a culture where far too many—including those who will spend their Christmas wad at high-end stores rather than Black Friday sales—are not working for the common good wherein all of us share in the benefits of living in a wealthy society.